ARTIST Q&A: MHAIRI MCGREGOR

Published: 29 April 2019


Scottish painter Mhairi McGregor, renowned for her contemporary Colourist landscape paintings, returns to Thompson's Gallery in London for a new solo exhibition titled 'Radiant Light'. Before the opening of the exhibition, Thompson's Gallery spoke to the artist about her working progress, her recent favourite subjects, how she discovered painting in the first place and more!

View Mhairi's entire new exhibition ONLINE HERE

Above: Assisi I Oil I 18'' x 31" CLICK HERE for availability to purchase -  Click here to see the entire exhibition, 'Radiant Light'

Thompson's Gallery:  Do you have any studio rituals or superstitions?

Mhairi McGregor: Yes. In the morning I always walk, whatever the weather, to my studio about a mile away in the next village. It clears my head and helps me focus on the work in hand. I live at the northern edge of our village, on a hill, with a view of Ben Lomond. The road takes me quickly into the surrounding countryside so I often see deer, buzzards, geese, whatever happens to be around. I'm quite liberal with my paint so I have to change into painting overalls, trouser and even shoes. In winter I warm up the studio (I hate being cold!) and in summer I open wide the double doors. Two cups of coffee and I'm ready to start painting.

Above: Artist's studio. Image courtesy of artist.

Above: Artist's studio. Image courtesy of artist.

TG: Does your process have any established pattern, ie sketching beforehand or resisting pattern in total?

MM: Every painting is planned out, usually the day before. I have a box of "colours" – fragments of material, postcards, beads, anything that has caught my eye. I use these to draw out a labelled plan of the painting developed from my original, watercolour sketch. I use two palettes. The first is a limited palette, which can change from day to day. It provides the main, pared down number of colours I've chosen during the planning stage. I put out each colour out only as I need it. The second palette holds previous blends of colours I think I might use again. The latter I've had for absolutely ages and it's very densely layered now. I keep a lid on it. As you'll know, oil paints take years to dry, and from the surface down. Some of Van Gogh's paintings are said to be still wet at the back! The final painting is often very different from the original sketch in terms of colour. For me, the play between two or three well-chosen colours says it all.

TG:Do you ever experience 'painters' block'? How do you overcome it?

MM: Yes, but basically, if a painting doesn't work on the day it goes in the bin. Very rarely, if a piece has almost worked, it might stay in the studio for a couple of days maximum while I try to change the elements I don't like. Other than that, binned! The only way around it for me is to plan something different for the next day and persevere. The worst time I ever had was two weeks work when I just wasn't happy with anything. All binned. Dispiriting to say the least, but I just kept working through it.

TG: What has been your favorite painting or subject to paint in the past year?

MM: In the last year, Italy. I won a scholarship from the Royal Scottish Academy when I was a student and lived in Florence for some time. It was wonderful, but I was younger and carless and I had longed to go back ever since. There was so much more I wanted to do outside the city, with freedom to stop where I wanted for as long as I wanted rather than fleeting glimpses through dusty bus windows. When I work on landscapes I have to travel to the places I paint. Photographs are someone else's work - their viewpoint, their composition, their choice of shadow. I have to see it for myself, try to immerse myself in the place. So I go for at least a month and paint watercolours in situ. I love the planning and get very excited about the country or areas I visit. I do as many watercolours as I can. Three a day and I feel I'm hitting my target. I work from these watercolours in my studio back home, turning most of them into oils. The watercolours I keep. They are my record, part of my diary. So at the moment, it's my Italian watercolours. I still have a lot of sketches to work through, but this collection contains the first, the newest and freshest selection of oils based on the watercolours from June, July and August.

Above: Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi, Oil 20'' x 20'' Click here to see avaiability for purchase

TG: How did you first come into painting?

MM: My mum, who was a textile artist and taught at Glasgow School of Art, was constantly sketching landscapes on holiday when I was growing up. My dad not so much. They met at the GSA, though he was an architect, so it was mum drawing really. As children (all six of us!) we were always given sketch books, and I would sit outside, next to my mum, and just paint. It was magic.

TG: What is your best piece of advice to young aspiring artists?

MM: Say yes to every opportunity offered and always work when you can.

TG: You travel for work, painting across the UK, Europe, Americas, Australia, and more. Has any location in particular become the favourite?

MM: My favourite place outside Scotland has to be the Australian outback. I have been there several times now. The first time I was staying with family and friends who took me to local places they thought I might like. Nothing inspired. I was in despair. Then one day someone said, "I know where you ought to go!" They took me north out of Adelaide, up to a place called the Flinders Ranges. The further away from the city we got, the more I knew that this was where I wanted to be. From tarred roads to dirt roads to no roads at all. I've been to many other outback locations since, but the Flinders Ranges were and remain my first and biggest love.

Above: Lake Trasimeno IOil I 18'' x 31'' Click here to see avaiability for purchase

TG: Do you like having music, podcasts, or something else on in the background whilst painting? Tell us about it.

MM: No. I have to have silence while I'm concentrating on painting. No distractions. I'd even stop Mr and Mrs Pheasant and family walking past the studio window if I could think of a pheasant-friendly way of doing it.

TG: Did (or do) you find inspiration in the work of other artists? Anyone who's been influential for you?

MM: As a child, our house was filled with books about many different artists. I used to look through them all, but there was one in particular that drew me back time and time again. Later, as a student in Paris, visiting all the usual places, I remember as if it were yesterday, walking in through the entrance of the Pompidou Centre, up the escalators and through the doors until I found the place I was looking for. There it was. I was finally standing in front of the genuine article – a Nicolas de Staël. I've never looked back.

Above: Mhairi McGregor at work. Image courtesy of artist.

Mhairi McGregor's new exhibition "Radiant Light" opens 8 May 2019 - 25 May 2019 at Thompson's gallery in London 3 Seymour Place W1H5AZ (2' walk from Marble Arch Station). Call the gallery with interest or questions +44(0)207 935 3595 or email enquiries@thompsonsgallery.co.uk

CLICK HERE to see the entire exhibition online.